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Reviving Legacy Brands

Legacy brands have long standing reputations that are born of their storied, rich histories and they are often associated with experience, performance, uniqueness and value that transcend cost. So when the need to revive legacy brands arises, the question you should ask is “which elements of my brand are dormant, and which elements still have value?”

1. What causes a legacy brand to lose value?

Some brands have stood the test of time and have successfully managed to maintain their market position and market share, whereas others have simply died away. These ‘dead brands’ may have had a legacy but because of rigid marketing strategies and redundant products that did not evolve, the brand slipped into oblivion. and redundant products that did not evolve, the brand slipped into oblivion.

To understand why brands decline, we usually follow a brand’s product life cycle (PLC) framework, which identifies four stages - introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. The simplicity of the framework is appealing; however, it has major drawbacks, including its repetitive nature for managers. It uses sales to define the stages of the life cycle, which in turn are used to predict sales, which creates a self-fulfilling prophecy because, when sales decline, ‘management’ decides that a brand no longer needs investment and begins to milk the brand.

A more evolved form of the PLC framework is the product evolutionary cycle (PEC), which offers additional insights into how a brand grows.

According to PEC, in a biological context, evolution of organisms is affected by three forces -generative (their genetics), selective (the environment), and mediative (intervention by other species; specifically, humans). The PEC framework is equally applicable to brands. This framework implies that a brand can evolve, and is not predestined to die.

An example for this is Instagram, now worth $1 billion, while Kodak, the larger and more established company, is broke. Instagram simply created a better version of Kodak’s original ‘snapshot’ by tweaking the product to make it more feasible to the current social networking trends, and became an instant success.

A legacy brand, however, isn’t just a collection of good products and lifecycles. It is also a collection of stories and perceptions and a group of people that love the brand. The truth is that when a company begins dictating everything about the brand, is when a company forgets its customers and loses its charm.

2. Can a legacy be brought back to life?

Today “old” has become “classic,” and classic has become cool. New brands and even new marketing campaigns can take years and huge amounts of money to catch on, and still fail more often than they succeed. Brand revival is one of the most valuable ways to reduce risk and achieve a “head start” over newer branding concepts. For a legacy brand, the fundamental brand character and consumer proposition that helped a brand endure in the past can help it endure in the future.

A customer-led marketing strategy of US-based iconic motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc. (Harley) is one such example, which as a global brand the effects can also be seen in South Africa.

Harley was the world's leading designer and manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles with over a 50% market share. Harley bikes were known for their distinctive design and heavy customisation.

The key problems faced included falling sales due to the global economic recession and the changing demographics of its purchasers. The median age of a Harley rider, which had been 35 years in 1987, went up to 47 in 2005 as the majority of Harley's core customers, the baby boomers, were aging.

Due to shifting demographics, the company adopted a multi-generational and multi-cultural marketing strategy and decided to change its marketing approach from a "one size fits all" agency-based marketing approach to a customer-led model. The company's shift went from a traditional model to crowdsourcing where it could draw on the ideas of Harley fans around the world to guide the direction of marketing for the brand.

The new customer-led marketing approach is solving the company's problems related to the demographic shift and reviving the legacy brand. The evolution of Harley as a cult brand has been created by adopting a focused differentiation strategy of freedom and empowerment, which enables Harley to continue to command a premium for its machines.

3. Where is brand value still active and where is it dormant?

A legacy brand has tremendous value locked deep in its history. One needs to identify what those pearls are and bring them back to the forefront.

These are some questions that must be asked when trying to understand where the brand is still relevant and where it is dormant.

a. What are the strengths of your brand?

When bringing back a brand name from dormancy the essence of revival’s effectiveness is this: if it worked once, it can work again. The negative stigma of “old” evolves into a positive label of “proven”.

In 2009, Internet Company, AOL, realised that its name remained "one of the most powerful brands on the planet." However, the company recognised that it had to update the brand to become more relevant to current consumers.

For ailing brands, changing the logo, symbols and icons may not be the solution if it is done out of fear. Understanding why the current state of the product is not working is necessary before rushing into a make-over. If the brand is completely dead, a complete rebrand is perhaps the best way to revive the brand.

b. What is the history of your brand?

Brands with a history always outdo brands without because trust and legitimacy are key foundations of a consumer’s existing relationship with their brands and these can only be built with time and effort. A brand’s history, perceptions and folklore make them memorable. Their stories spark conversations; create shared experiences and enduring engagements, which transforms audiences into empowered advocates.

One way to truly understand a legacy brands history, ensuring that the whole brand story is told upon revival, is looking up archived media and talking to the retired admen and women, who once worked on these brands to understand their history.

c. Do you know your target audience?

Understanding the pulse of the target audience is one of the most important factors when reviving a legacy brand. Consumers today are telling brands how they feel about them and what they expect from them.

If companies listen carefully enough and engage the consumer in an interactive dialogue, as opposed to a brand monologue, they can understand the perception of the brand and be exactly where the consumers want them to be.

George Grieve, Managing Director for Vital Health Foods says, “A brand and its owner must be flexible, adjustable and in tune with its market. It must continually be on the cusp of product innovation and staff development.”

The brand has to withstand a multitude of economic changes and demographic shifts to find relevance in today’s consumable landscape.


Revival is evolution, not revolution. Legacy brands must take a long-term view in order for their legacy to survive.

At Wrappa, we establish a vision for your brand. We help brands better understand where they sit amongst their competition today, without losing its relevance of yesteryear, and how they can evolve for tomorrow.

Contact WRAPPA Brand Consultancy today and make your brand work for you!